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Pentecost 15, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
September 18, 2022
Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-15, Luke 16:1-15
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The parable in our Gospel text today is interesting. When you look at the actions of the steward, there's not a lot that seems good. Not a lot that deserves kudos. Not very much that's commendable. At the start of the story, the steward is accused of squandering and wasting his master’s possessions. The rumor says that he's spending his master’s money, like the prodigal sons spent his inheritance. Whether it's true or not, the master comes to him and says,
What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager
The stewards mind starts racing. What shall I do? He says to himself, I could dig but no, I'm too weak. I could beg. No, I’m too ashamed. I know what I shall do.
So then the steward, at least from what we see, it looks like he cheats his master. He calls in his masters debtors and slashes their bills, one by 50%, another by 20%. And at the end, his master commends the steward for his wisdom. That's odd. The steward doesn't seem to have really learned anything. He seems to have acted very dishonestly. What did he do that earned his Masters respect?
Well, you see, the master has been put in a very awkward position. He could call in his debtors. He could say to them, “Look, the steward when you talked to him, was already fired. He had no authority to slash your bills and half. I'm sorry, but I'm going to require the full amount when that bill comes due.”
If you've ever been shopping and grab an item off of the clearance rack, but when you bring it to the cashier and the cashier charges you full price, you might get an idea of how these debtors might feel about the master in that case. Not good. Upset. They might accuse him of being greedy.
But the master has another option, the one that the steward hopes he will take. The master could just let it lie. Take the financial hit and be regarded as a merciful and generous man. The steward wants this because he wants some of this impression of mercy and generosity to fall on him. He wants his master’s debtors to say “Ah, that master was merciful. His steward did me a favor. Now that he's put out of house and home, I will receive him into my house.”
That is the wisdom the master commends. It’s a clever plan. The steward got one over on him.
From the Masters point of view, though, there seems little difference between the steward squandering the wealth and forgiving debts. if the steward squanders the master’s wealth, the master loses but the steward gains. If the steward forgives deaths, the master loses money and the steward gains.
But the master knows something. He knows that money and profit isn't the point. People are. Mercy is. This is an eternal truth. And it's what the parable is teaching. People before profits. Have mercy on others, cost yourself some money, gain some friends. It's worth it. The steward realized this, but his gambit only works if the master is merciful. If the master is not merciful, if the master is a cruel and jealous man, then the master is going to go to his debtors and tell them to pay the full amount undermining the stewards entire plan. The steward might even be thrown in prison for fraud. But the steward recognized the master’s mercy and in so doing, he realized the truth about money.
If the accusations against the steward were true, and he was squandering his master’s possessions, then money was his master. Money was his ruler and he could not serve his master the way that his master wanted. The master’s goal was to have mercy. If the steward served money, then his goal would be to get more and more wealth. The goals of money and the goals of the master are opposed. They are mutually exclusive. In order to serve his master, in order to be a steward, the steward had to rule money, not the other way around. He had to subdue money and use it to the ends that his master wanted.
This is why Jesus says at the end: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
We are to use money, mammon, unrighteous wealth, to serve God. Make money God's slave, not your master. Let the Lord be the Lord. Don't try to twist things around. Don’t put the cart before the horse and hold up money over God.
Now this parable does teach us this valuable lesson about the small things of wealth, power and money. But it also teaches us about the large things. It teaches us how God works. The earthly master in the parable realized that cutting into his profits to gain friends was a good idea; but God, our heavenly master, He doesn’t just cut into his profits a little. He doesn't just give us a discount. He doesn't cut the debt in half, a third or even a quarter. He erases them. He destroys His profit margins in order to gain brothers and sisters. Jesus gave up everything to gain you as brothers and sisters. He came down from heaven and became a little baby in Bethlehem. He walked the earth for 33 years. In the end, He died on the cross, giving up His very life for His friends, for his family. God doesn’t see profit margins. The true treasure that God seeks after is people. It’s you. Brothers and sisters.
And brothers and sisters in Christ, you are like the steward. You are like him in the obvious way, that God has given us his possessions to manage and we should manage those well. We should manage those to the ends of mercy and not to the ends of money. But the steward said right at the beginning of the story, right after his master fired him, that he was too weak to dig. He recognized that he was at the bottom of a pit. He was too weak to even lift a shovel. Even if he could, the only way he could go is down. We are the same. Our sinful condition is so severe that we cannot free ourselves from it.
We are also like the steward in another way. The steward went through his options and came up with the only one that would get him out. He recognized his only option, which was to cast himself on the master’s mercy. His only option was to bet everything on the fact that his master was a kind and generous man. The steward might have said he was too ashamed to beg, but he was not ashamed to rely on the mercy of his master.
The steward was dealing with small things, so he only slashed the debts in half. He didn't obliterate them. He hedged his bets, since the master’s mercy couldn’t really extend that far, could it? Dear brothers and sisters, we are not dealing with small things. We are not dealing with small debts. We are dealing with large things. Thanks be to God that His mercy is larger than any earthly master’s could be. Like the steward, we recognize that we have only one way out. That way is the mercy of God. Unlike the steward, we are not ashamed to beg for God’s mercy.
This image is most clear in baptism, especially the baptism of a baby. Babies are too weak to dig. Whether you give them a shovel or a backhoe, they’re not going to give you a ditch. It’s a baby. Babies are weak. But just ask any parent, babies are not ashamed to beg. Begging is all they do. Their childlike faith guides them. Babies beg at all hours, day and night to be fed to be changed to be comforted. Babies cry out for mercy.
This is how we are before God. crying out for mercy. We are too weak even to lift a shovel, let alone dig our way out of our sinful condition. Our only option is to beg to throw ourselves on the mercy of our heavenly Master. God answers your cries. He answers them here. At the font with water and Word. He answers your cries in baptism where He seals you and calls you as his own. Where Jesus becomes your elder brother. Here we do no work. Here we only beg. And God answers with only mercy.